4 ways to make meetings more productive

4 ways to make meetings more productive

Make meetings less painful and more productive by following these healthy suggestions

Thea O'Connor, freelance writer, coach and presenter


Ineffective meetings have been named as the biggest culprit of wasting time and zapping productivity according to a global survey of 38,000 workers by Microsoft.

Before blaming lack of preparation or poor chairing, could it be that sitting for too long, not taking breaks and an overload of sugar and caffeine is part of the problem?

If you want people to be alert, stay focused and contribute good vibes as well as good ideas during meetings, it pays to revisit your typical meeting style.

Here are a few tips for maximising output during meetings, and making them less of a chore.


• For most of us, sharp thinking is at its peak early to mid-morning, so it might be best to avoid scheduling meetings to allow everyone to focus on key matters. 
• Mid-afternoon, mental and physical alertness dips for most people. If you must have a meeting at this time, limit the agenda to more administrative items. Make it a walking meeting, if numbers are small.
• Towards the end of a working day, around 4 to 5pm, alertness lifts again. This could be another good time for a meeting when people’s energy levels are higher, depending on your team’s knock off time. 
• As body clocks vary, you might want to alternate meeting times so it feels fair to all.

Break things up with movement

Research suggests we learn 10 per cent better when standing, so boost your health and your ability to integrate new information with short movement breaks.
• At the start of the meeting let people know it is okay to get up and move at any time, and set an example. 
• Incorporate stand-up breaks every 30 minutes. This is a good time frame ergonomically, as well as metabolically, and will also help reset people’s attention.
• For small, shorter meetings, trying standing up or walking for the entire agenda. One study found that stand up meetings were 34 per cent shorter than sit-down meetings, while producing the same solutions.
• Change seats half-way: A great way to free people from a fixed position – physically and psychologically. Nominate someone to notice the energy levels in room and call for a round of musical chairs when things start slumping.

Limit duration

Planning, prioritising, making decisions and judgement calls depletes the resources of the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which can lead to poor judgement and unethical behaviour. So there is no point in pushing on when everyone is flagging.
• Agree on a time limit beforehand and to stick to it. If the meeting is longer than an hour, have a five minute break at the 60 minute mark.
• If you see a need to exceed the set time, get group agreement first and take a short break before proceeding.

Healthy, sustaining fuel

• Make water the default drink option. For extra appeal, offer soda water and a squeeze of lemon. Offer herbal tea along with caffeinated drinks.
• If your meeting takes place at a meal time either provide nutritious food or let people bring their lunch. Low blood glucose levels diminish self-control.
• Sweets are cheap and colourful, but have no nutritional value. Provide nuts and fruit instead.

Many have given up hope of an enjoyable, effective meeting. With clear planning, it is possible.

About the author

Thea O’Connor is a freelance writer, coach and presenter focused on the intersection of wellbeing and business. She specialises in identifying ways to create healthy and productive work habits and work cultures.